I’m huffing and puffing my way up the steep rocky path toward the gorgeous mountain lakes my companion has promised lie ahead. It is Rocky Mountain National Park, after all. It’s no surprise that the air is thin, but this doesn’t hamper him. He lives a mile high and trains for triathlons in the parks, reservoirs and along the roads nearby.
“I could use a 10 second break,” I plead. He obliges and we step aside to let the nimble and altitude-acclimated bound on by. A few who pass by on their downward trek offer us an encouraging, “You’re doing great!”
As I pause, my friend says sympathetically and so simply, “I find it helps to take deeper breaths.”
At the suggestion, of course, I inhale a deep breath and then draw it deeper. And you know what? It worked! As we continued, when my breath quickened and my heart started to race on the steep parts, instead of huffing and puffing and pressing on so I wouldn’t seem like a wimp, I just expanded my lungs a bit deeper on each breath.
Deeper. Slower. Stronger. I’ve heard they call this combat breathing. I call it respite in the Rockies.
And, me being me, I find myself mind-meandering through my long-ago (and mostly far away) respiratory physiology classroom training. How does that work again? At higher altitude the partial pressure of O2 in the air and my lungs is lower… the sign at Pikes Peak said 60%, I believe, much lower than the 98% I am used to at sea level … which means that there is plenty of room for more O2 saturation in my blood stream. More inhalation means more air available which provides more O2 available to be exchanged. Right? And with lots more blood coursing through that pulmonary circulation thanks to my hardworking heart which was pumping fast and faster, my deeper breaths were DOing something!
Ok OK. Miraculous and scintillating as that science-speak is, what I am captured by as I look back on this trek that, yes, I survived, is the simplicity of “Take a Deeper Breath.” It reminds me…
You have reserves you don’t realize.
You have untapped flexibility and capacity you can call upon.
And BONUS! One good thing leads to another! Deeper breathing activates a whole (parasympathetic) neural reflex that triggers calming.
All this flies in the face of the push harder, exert more, breathe faster-shallower, hyperventilation scenario it seems our world inclines us to visit these days. Sure, quick, shallow breaths may work in a pinch (like in a panic attack) because, by allowing us to blow off extra CO2, they trick our brain into thinking we don’t need to breathe. Underwater divers make use of this at their own peril.
But we, the anxious lot of us, adopt it in error and to our own disadvantage. We need to breathe. And rather than shallow, we need to go deeper. Rather than faster, we need to go slower. Deeper. Slower. By choice.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
How much of my day is spent reacting and responding with faster, faster? How much more capacity would I find if I replaced shallower with deeper? Faster with slower? What if I trusted that My Maker had already provided the means for me to climb the mountain? Any mountain? If only I listened to the voice of my capable companion?
As we ascended and came nearer to the mountain lake, those returning from their trek greeted us with smiles and happy shouts of, “You’re almost there!” How can you not smile at encouragement like that?!
Oh and the vistas did NOT disappoint.
Take a deeper breath. So simple.
I wonder what other resources one might discover in listening and complying with the voice of Wisdom and Experience while we climb this steep, rocky path called life…
“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” ~ Proverbs 22:6
I think something may be getting lost in the translation, here. Everywhere I look, I see parents starting their children off, holding their hand, walking with them, lugging their backpacks, bringing them water…harmless things. Helpful things.
That somehow turn into… must practice, must be at every game, must train, must compete, must enter tournaments, must “be seen by college coaches,”… There’s a dedication and discipline parents want to inspire. They dearly want to start them off on the right way.
But we’re reluctant to let go so they can find it. We get so caught up in the “way they should go” that they turn from it, just to spite us. It’s ‘our should’ not theirs and they say so.
Or they don’t. And maybe that’s worse. When they feel the weight of unspoken expectation invested in them and try to live up to it. Knowing, full well, they don’t have it in them. But seeking to please. Clamoring for praise. Daring not disappoint.
This way becomes covered in brambles. The ascent becomes steep. Footing precarious. Gravel gives way and they fall. Tumbling down. The higher they’ve climbed and the more mountainous the region, the more they are scraped and bruised and broken on the way down.
“Be pleasing! seek praise! don’t disappoint!” echoes. They scramble to their feet, desperately searching for the trail head. Where is the path? Quickly, I must find it. I am falling behind, others are moving ahead! Must find the way I should go. Mom and Dad told me. Others encouraged me. Can’t let them down.
How many of our children are trapped in this place?
I expect the only safe excursion for parent and child is along the flat. Weaving in and out, following the paved way, learning where the edge is and which direction is forward. The pace? As long as it takes for small feet and little legs or great big sneakers and long limbs to make it their own. Their own pace. Their own swing. Their own shot. Their own path.
We, need only shout encouragement when they choose well. “That’s the way!” And to re-direct when they choose poorly.
The way up the mountain of God is narrow, the ledges best navigated single file. But at each turn there is a broad place, where God says, “Rest here a while. Eat if you’re hungry. Drink if you’re thirsty. Prepare for what’s ahead.” He knows it already. Walked the path. Chose it for us.
When we see it we know it is ours. Meant especially for us. Not simple to climb, but easy to choose. And climb we do, putting one foot in front of the other. Same step, different terrain.
No wonder we celebrate when baby takes his first step.
God’s idea for me today was… “sometimes you have to take the low road to get to the high road.” Now, I have never considered myself a settle for average or below kind of person. (And let’s face it, when my kids say they “failed” a test, they are usually worried they may not have gotten an A.) But what of the “C” grade? What of the middle ground? By definition, that’s where most of us fall, even though we reach for the heights.
Honestly, I am thinking about this as I consider how to get one of my children to do “what’s good for her.” (the high ground) Why doesn’t she see that if she doesn’t get off her butt and get exercise and work on her skills she will fail at the soccer tryouts? But telling her this is not motivating. Yesterday, of her own accord, she apparently pulled out the hand weights (I know because she left them for her sister to trip over – okay). I am pretty sure she did this because she wants to look better.
Now I have designed training programs for her, sketched out stretching routines complete with stick figures, made the calisthenics workouts fun with the latest exercise equipment, and nada. The equipment sits and stares at me. And I think to myself, what’s good for her doesn’t even start to get her interest. Taking the high ground is way beyond eye level. Nope. I know what’s motivating: appealing to her vanity, her baser human nature, perhaps even her fear of falling. Because then she will respond. But that feels like such low ground to me.
And then God says, “Sometimes you have to take the low road to get to the high road.” And then He spoke Christ among us who said, “Follow me.”
I think the highest roads may not even seem like an option to most of us. I have to climb all the way up there??!!! But small steps along a gradually inclined road – that sounds more like the Lord’s style. Gradually progressing, continuously rewarding. That does leave most us navigating the middle ground. And perhaps that is just where He wants us. Because I think it may get very steep at the top. We’ll need a bit of fitness training before then.
I read a piece of great advice this week: “If you struggle with resolve, try intentionally having a mediocre day. Shoot for 60% in everything you do, and see if you don’t exceed expectations all day long.”
Something about a new year is inspiring. I don’t think it’s the view. I am hoping it’s the perspective. Have a 62% day, y’all! Tomorrow, let’s go for 64%.